One Hour One Life

By Veronika Janik

“Blood. It’s in you to give.”

We’ve all seen and heard it before. The commercial ends and is followed by a plethora of others. You continue to watch mindlessly, waiting for your program to resume. You don’t even think twice.

However, in the midst of useless advertisements infiltrating our minds with trivial information, this commercial contains a message. A message that goes unnoticed by thousands of individuals each year. A message that if taken to heart, could potentially save someone’s life.

In May 1987, that someone happened to be automobile accident survivor Michelle Gordon. When her vehicle was side-swiped on her way to pick up her little brother from intramurals, Gordon suffered severe injuries including temporary memory loss, broken bones and internal damage. She was rushed to the hospital, where she remained for six weeks.

“You never expect anything like that to happen,” says Gordon.

“It was just like any other day and then all of a sudden it just happened.”

During her stay at the hospital, Gordon used 32 units of blood before medical staff were able to get things under control. An amount equivalent to little more than three times the units of blood in the average human body.

“I’m here because of all the blood products I received. I would not be here without Canadian Blood Services,” she states.

Gordon openly admits that until that fateful day, she had not donated any blood. Since her accident, she has donated seven times and will continue to do so in attempts to return all 32 units.

“A lot of people don’t realize how many different ways blood services are necessary. It’s not just accidents,” says Gordon.

‘Unfortunately, though many of us are aware of accidents, illnesses, epidemics, and tragedies via virtually every form of media, the numbers of donors remains lower than needed.

The cliche is the same as it has been for decades. You never think it’s going to happen to you. You’ll never be on the receiving end of a blood transfusion and you do not fully comprehend the importance until something happens to you or someone you know.

In 1998, blood donations were down significantly with numbers averaging 650,000 units per year. Although Canadian Blood Services have managed to turn things around, they are still not up to the record high­–one million units a year in 1990.

“We still need to bump those numbers up,” says Canadian Blood Services Communications Specialist Doris Kaufmann.

“We have an ageing population which brings with it a reduction in those able to donate. In addition, we are dealing with more aggressive medical treatments now, which require more blood products,” adds Kaufmann.

With the graying of the population, and the majority of the donors older and male, individuals such as Regional Director for Canadian Blood Services in Alberta Viki Jerke, are looking into possible reasons for a lack of youth donors.

Jerke and colleagues have recently done research regarding what it is that makes people want to donate and what makes them take the final step to becoming a donor.

Jerke labels those who are interested in donating but seem to avoid the ultimate step of visiting the clinic as “press supporters”.

“Essentially they know that it’s a good thing to do and they are the type of people who typically support a variety of volunteer organizations,” explains Jerke.

“They have it in the back of their minds but why they don’t actually do it is what we’re trying to find out is why they don’t actually do it. That’s the group that we pretty much make most of our marketing effort to,” she adds.

Possibilities of reluctance to “take that final step” include fear of needles, fear of the unknown and fear of the entire process.

For younger donors, a continuous theme seems to be that they are less comfortable being in view of themselves or others who are donating. According to Jerke, unlike older donors who are quite comfortable watching each other donate, younger donors seem to want to be distracted.

For this reason, Canadian Blood Services is looking at various initiatives, such as the use of DVDïž´S, movies or the Internet in clinics during donations.

“We want to provide lots of opportunities for youth to be diverted and not just sit around watching each other bleed,” states Jerke.

Though the number of youth donors is not exceptionally low, numbers could always afford to rise This is the intention of various publicized events held by Canadian Blood Services each year.

One such event, taking place during the month of January, is called Sirens for Life. This particular challenge sparks the rivalry between Edmonton and Calgary by pitting each cities Fire, Police and EMS crews against one another in attempts to see who can donate the most units of blood. Citizens donations are also included in the final tally.

“This challenge is a great way to inform the public that blood donation is important year round. After the holidays, people tend to hibernate but unfortunately patients can’t take breaks from needing transfusions,” says Kaufmann.

Last year’s challenge was won by Edmonton and Kaufmann encourages individuals to donate in order to gain back the title.

“At the end of the day it is the patients who win. Nonetheless, we’re going to win hands down this year. I’m not going to let Edmonton win if it kills me,” says Kaufmann with unbridled enthusiasm.

Veronika Janik

Features Editor

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